The Design Against Crime Research Centre is unique in that it has taken time to visualise perpetrator techniques. This is because seeing things helps us understand further. The visual dimension of the ways scams occur often identifies, for the designer, intervention sites, where design can operate to block crime and make a difference.

Pick-pocket and bag theft perpetrator techniques include:



Dipping, also known as pick-pocketing involves discrete access gained through bag or pocket; property removed by nimble fingers. Possible tactics include distraction/blocking (1).





Lifting is defined as theft of property from a static location. Characteristics include: Opportunistic theft; owner inattentive / bag unattended. Thief conceals or kicks away bag, picks it up and walks away (1).






Slashing often occurs in crowded situations. Victims do not have their eyes on their bags and are unaware when contents have been removed. Characteristics include concealed blades used to cut the body of the bag. Contents fall out or are removed by nimble fingers (1).





Grabbing, also known as Snatching, is defined as theft from person, unless force is used, then the crime is classified as robbery or ‘street robbery.’ Characteristics of Grabbing include: Strength / stealth involved Force used to pull bag from victim. Straps of bag used as pulling point (1).





The Scippatori – is Italian slang, referring to thieves who rob people of their belongings, while riding a scooter or pedal bike. Usually associated with Mediterranean climates and city locations such as Naples or Barcelona, Bob and Bambi Arno suggest the “scippatori are marauding teams of pirates on motor scooters…(who) ply their vicious bag snatching chicanery on unsuspecting tourists” (2).


Please Note: Items of plunder commonly include watches, wallets and bags – the straps of which are sometimes sliced by the perpetrator to make the getaway faster (2). Variations on this scam have been recorded by the police in many cities, including London and Manchester, where it is less frequent than other bag theft perpetrator techniques. More common in Summer time, typical bike related bag grabbing has been described here, ‘a guy came flying up on a mountain bike, thumped me and grabbed the bag’ by the actress Linda Robson, who was assaulted and robbed in summer 2003 outside her front door in Islington, London’ (3).



DISTRACTION: Fake Pigeon Poo


In this technique, the 3 perpetrators work as a team. Perp 1 drops fake pigeon droppings on the victim from a balcony. Perp 2 acts as a ‘friend’ taking care of victim and distracts from Perp 3 who steals the bag.



In this technique, the perpetrator distracts the victim with conversation and covers up desirable item with a card or a map. During this conversation, slips item into his own bag or pocket before walking away.





Similar to Scippatori, phone-jacking involves the snatching of a mobile phone out of the victim’s hand whilst they are carrying or speaking on the phone.





In this situation, the desired product is stolen only to be thrown away. It usually involves force or threats.



The phrase ‘perpetrator technique’ is primarily used by law enforcement officers and those from the crime prevention community, to describe the characteristic ways criminals commit crime. It suggests that there are patterns and styles to how crimes are commonly committed. The phrase ‘modus operandi’ (often abbreviated to MO) meaning ‘mode of operation’ is also used in common English to mean something similar i.e. the habits of manner of working, the method of operating or functioning of criminals as well as individuals.


We list perpetrator techniques for 2 reasons:

1. designers can understand them and figure out how to design against them;

2. individuals can familiarize themselves with them and figure out how best to behave safely, in public places, where some scam crimes, linked to bag and bike theft, are common.


We are always delighted to receive emails from colleagues updating scams for us or identifying new ones ­please email if you have new scams or observations for us to visualise.

  1. Gamman, L. (2001) In The Bag Design Resource [CD Rom]. London: Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
  2. Vincent, B. and Arno, B. (2004) Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons and Street Scams While Travelling. Chicago: Bonus books.
  3. Wilks, B. (2003) Call the Poo-lice[The Sun]. September 2003.